(Reflection in continuity to Walden
Bello's article ,
The Forum at the Crossroads )

Chico Whitaker

"Is it time for the WSF to fold up
its tent and give way to new modes of global organization of
resistance and transformation?"

The least that one can say to Walden
Bello's question at the end of his essay "The Forum at the
Crossroads" is that it is daring… It has, however, the merit
of saying directly and clearly what a certain number of members of
the WSF International Council think, but do not say.

But we cannot stop reflecting on its
instigating reasoning, especially when it affirms that the WSF has
already "fulfilled its historic function of aggregating and
linking the diverse counter-movements spawned by global capitalism."
Or in quoting Hugo Chávez, when, at the 2006 Forum in Caracas,
"he warned delegates … about the danger of the WSF becoming
simply a forum of ideas with no agenda for action," and said
that now it is necessary to "have a strategy of
‘counter-power,'" and "to move into spaces of power at
the local, national, and regional level."

To begin it would be necessary to see
what crossroads and therefore of what roads we are speaking. The WSF
continues on a path that did not exist before, and one that is
parallel to concrete resistance to neoliberalism and to the struggle
to change the world. He has been open not to replace the other but
rather to give it support, creating conditions so that those who
resist and fight can be articulated and reinforced more and more.

These two paths do not have to cross.
Being different they can continue on parallel paths. And if they are
both necessary – and this would be the question to discuss – they
should not eat each another, as Walden proposes. What they should do
is to be related intensely and permanently, to become closer and
closer, to mutually feed on each other, so that more and more people
are at the same time on both, interconnecting themselves on one and
acting on the other one. That is to say, be fighting at the same time
that they are expanding their alliances and gathering more and more
forces to go further and further in their fights.

If the path to change the world
effectively and deeply is still very long, the support that can be
given by the WSF to this struggle also has to continue for the long
term. Truly, we do not arrive at any crossroad, but rather we have to
face the necessity to clarify the horizons better, so that the two
paths can continue forward.

The initial options in the WSF


It would be usefull to remember that
from the creation of the WSF there is a discussion that accompanies
us, in all levels of reflection and decision over social forums, on
the character of the WSF: is it a space or a movement? What Walden
Bello, who seems to be among those who only see the WSF as a
movement, proposes does not have therefore, in itself, anything new.
The new thing – maybe the surprising thing – is the radicalness of
his proposal. It does not imply that the WSF approaches the other
path, remaining as a space, but rather simply that it disappears,
when crossing the other one. As if the two paths could not coexist,
as has happened during these past seven years, and now we should only
continue on the road of action.

Before the first World Social Forum in
Porto Alegre in 2001, its organizers were already in front of that
disjunctive space-movement. To create a place of encounter or to
propose, to all those who came to the Forum, concrete actions of
resistance and transformation? That is to say, they had at their head
a bifurcation that would define the character of the process that
they began at that moment.

When organizing that first edition and
when proposing its Charter of Principles – written starting from
the lessons and discoveries of that edition – they have opted for
the path that would give the WSF the character of a space. But they
saw it as an instrument in the service of those who were in the
action, that is to say, the existent movements. In other words, they
have considered that the vocation of the WSF was to begin something
that did not exist before, that would not be to change the world
directly but rather to help those who fight to change the world.

An initiative with this objective was,
for them, more necessary than the creation of a new movement, with
its own political program and its immediate objectives and more long
term, its militants and its specific actions defined by its directing
instances. Such a movement could not even be considered "a
movement of movements," because it would be always in
competition with other movements looking to carry out the same

So they have organized the Forum
primarily as an open encounter of the different types and levels of
civil society organization – social movements, NGOs, unions. They
wanted to put all of their actions in relationship. And not only
among more directly political movements, in the struggle for power,
but rather among all the types of action that we need to change the
world effective and deeply, even at the level of personal behaviors.
It was necessary to reinforce and to multiply them, until the
planetary level, to face a globalized capitalism, inside this
general mobilization of citizens usually called "alterglobalisation."

The organizers of the first Forum saw
it therefore as a global space – that could expand horizontally to
all the horizons and all the levels of reality – where the
different proposals and actions under way could be known, discussed,
deepened, evaluated, questioned, articulated, with freedom and the
widest possible participation, incubating new initiatives and
movements. Without this whole exchange resulting in a "unique
final document" of the Forum that sought to unify all its
participants in light of options or specific

They established that an important step
to be given to help the fight for another world was that the
discussions in the "WSF space" were propositional, this is,
they looked for alternatives for the real construction of "another
world." And that the initiative to propose, in that space,
debates – as in a forum of ideas – or articulations – heading for
new actions – should be reserved specifically for civil society, a
new political actor that was emerging in the world. This new actor
had not until then an instrument of such a dimension and of this
type so that their components, in their extreme diversity, were given
to know some to the other ones and to define common objectives of

But the organizers of the first Forum
had also considered an even more important question: we are many who
fight to change the world but we are not able to build the union that
could give us a great deal more force. That is to say that it was
necessary to tempt to understand each other and to reinforce each
other, instead dividing us recurrently, destroying us mutually.

They considered then that to build
the union it was not enough to meet and to get to know each other. It
was also necessary to experience new practices of political action,
based on horizontal relationships, in which all respect each other in
their diversity of methods and objectives, in that nobody was
considered more important than anyone else, in a space without
hierarchies nor main leaders, in which all could be heard instead of
competing among themselves according to the capitalist logic. This
would allow the discovery of convergences and the possibility of new
alliances, inside the logic of networks that were already signed in
the world as a more democratic way to organize ourselves. Little by
little, in the Forums that have been organized after the first one,
the construction of that union has become, in fact, the fundamental
result to wait for them, or its role in the fight for the "other
possible world," as a time of practical exercise of new types of

In this way the Forum, as an "open
space," would serve precisely to build "new modes of global
organization of resistance and transformation," as Walden Bello
desires, that should become concrete not in the path of the Forum
but rather in the path of action. Since – only limitation – they did
not seek to impose their decisions on the other participants of the
Forum, neither to speak in the name of all of them, and less still to
lead the Forum to take positions in the name of the Forum, linking
them to all participants.

The organizers – or facilitators of the
creation of the "WSF spaces," as they have called
themselves, from the local level to the International Council, so
that they were not considered "leaders" of a new "movement"
– have continually discussed these options from 2001, during all of
the encounters. And today we discuss in these same Forums "the
future of the WSF" and its "open space" character.
Many proposals that arose in the Forums and in the International
Council are framed in fact in this discussion, which exists from the
beginning of that process.

What happens with Walden Bello's
proposal is that, in light of the fact that he seems to have opted
for a Forum-movement, he could but question the possibility of a
"space" to be "the most appropriate vehicle for the
new stage in the struggle of the global justice and peace movement."
In fact, leaving aside the parallel road that was begun in 2001 and
considering only one, or a mixture of both, what he proposes is that
we stop the limitations that walking inside the WSF, as a space,
imposes on us, so that we can continue ahead with more force – "to
occupy spaces of power" – only on the path to action.

Current perspectives and necessities

Walden indicates however in his essay
some of the positive effects of the WSF that in fact could not exist
if it was not a space. So, he says "the WSF became a magnet for
global networks focused on different issues, from war to
globalization to communalism to racism to gender oppression to
alternatives" permitting that civil society, in its diversity, "to
meet, network, and, quite simply, to feel and affirm itself," as "a
retreat during which the movement gathers its energies ." He
considers that "the WSF provides a site and space for the movement
to elaborate, discuss, and debate the vision, values, and
institutions of an alternative world order built on a real community
of interests." And considering that "perhaps a compelling reason
for the modus vivendi of the old and new movements was the
realization that they needed one another in the struggle against
global capitalism," says "that the direct democratic experiences
of Seattle, Prague, Genoa, and the other big mobilizations of the
decade were institutionalized in the WSF or Porto Alegre process,"
providing "an opportunity to recreate and reaffirm solidarity
against injustice, against war, and for a world that was not
subjected to the rule of empire and capital." Also considering that
"developing a strategy of counter-power or counter-hegemony need
not mean lapsing back into the old hierarchical and centralized modes
of organizing characteristic of the old left."

But when saying all this, his proposal
to take up camp sounds as if he is saying that the WSF has been in
fact a nice experience, but it is necessary to accept that it is

We know that all organizations –
including the WSF – have to disappear one day, when their role was
fulfilled. But have we already arrived at this moment? Are we at a
point on the road at which it should stop? Maybe Walden, in this
aspect, is being too optimistic, since I do not believe that he wants
to delude himself.

Have all of the positive effects of the
WSF to which Walden refers been brought to all the corners of the
planet? In Asia, in the old socialist countries, in the Arab world,
in China, in all of America, in all of Africa? Have all civil society
organizations in all the countries of the world – or at least a
significant number of them – had the opportunity to carry out the
interconnections provided by the Forums? Have there been local forums
in all the cities or regions of the world – or in a large number of
them – so that this experience can be lived by those who cannot
travel to world or continental encounters, or even national ones?
Have they been created in all spaces so that civil society be
reinforced and articulated to take its place as a new political
actor? Does the experimentation of new political practices that
overcome "the old hierarchical and centralized modes of
organizing characteristic of the old left" has been made by all
the organizations that fight against globalized capitalism? Have
these new political practices effectively penetrated the
organizations that come to participate in the Forums, changing them
internally? Are all the movements already fully convinced that "that
they needed one another in the struggle against global capitalism,"
and are able to build their union, instead of continuing to be
divided and facing each other?

It is not the case to give examples –
more so sad examples, in organizations that have participated in the
creation of the WSF – showing that all this is still far from
happening. In what concerns cultural changes, in the behaviors and in
the practices of political action, there is no doubt that, under the
ideological dominance of capitalism, we need maybe generations to see
this happening. Why then to interrupt that process, or to finish
that parallel road to action? That is in fact the question to put to
Walden Bello, in response to the question at the end of his essay.

The Forum's communication with the

But I worry that Walden Bello's
proposal helps us less than our opponents. Even more so because it
comes from within the WSF.

In fact, to say that the WSF is
finished is exactly the same thing that the large international media
says that attempts to decree the death of the WSF, so that the owners
of the world do not have to worry any more. The members of the
Communication Commission of the WSF International Council cites for
us, as an example, what Spanish newspaper El País said in
January of this year: "the WSF has disappeared from the radar

That Commission points to what, in my
opinion, is currently the biggest challenge of the WSF: communicating
with the world. We can clamor with loud and multiple voices that
"another world is possible," but there are still a very
large number of those who do not believe it. Without any doubt, they
are the largest majorities. And we have still not been able to do so
that all that is proposed, discussed, intended, articulated, and
done, starting or not in the Forums, arrives to the eyes and ears of
those large majorities, as messages of hope.

In a recent meeting of the
Communication Commission in Italy, I have been able to see more
clearly the difference of evolution – one positive and one negative –
of the two dynamics lived by the process of the WSF, toward inside
and outside.

The dynamics toward the inside
corresponds to its first challenge, to organize Forums that were
indeed spaces of encounter, recognition and mutual learning,
identification of convergences, launching new initiatives of
resistance and transformation, feeding properly stated actions and
building the union.

This dynamic has always been upward.
Each Forum has taken advantage of the experiences of the previous
one, looking to improve its methodology for a more complete
realization of their objectives. From the first Forum that combined
activities proposed from above, by their organizers, with
self-organized activities from below, by their own participants, we
arrived in 2005 at a completely self-organized Forum. On the other
hand the Letter of Principles has been signed more and more. And many
new articulations and actions, even on a planetary level, arose in
the Forums and were consolidated, including the biggest for Peace in
February 2003 that surprised everyone.

In the last Forum, in Nairobi – with
fewer people for reasons that have already been well identified – the
methodology gave important qualitative leaps, as with basing the
inscription of activities not in theoretical topics but rather in
transformative objectives, or when reserving the fourth working day
to program concrete actions. Diverse organizational inadequacies,
however, have not allowed the full use of these advances.

The little outward communication on the
other hand made the inadequacies more visible than the advances in
Nairobi, such as the new networks that have arisen in it, and this
Forum has deserved very controversial evaluations – some frankly
negative ones, as if there was not the obligation to defend the son
of the attacks that he has suffered since he was born. Walden Bello
has said in his essay that that Forum had been very "disappointing."
Onyango Oloo, one of its organizers, ended up writing 24 pages of
hard criticisms, beginning by saying that the Forum had been a
"disaster." At the same time, among other positive
analysis, Gustave Massiah, from France, without ignoring what was
insufficient, titles his evaluation: "Nairobi 2007, an excellent
World Social Forum."

The literature on this Forum is
therefore varied. And as its International Council has not presented
better information, after the Forum, on the character of the 2008
Forum and perspectives for 2009, many journalists have been able to
say that the WSF process has lost much of its force.

But it is certain that the WSF is not
so dead. I recently listened to Oloo's words, the one who wrote the
24-page criticism, in a round-table in Italy, relating the extremely
positive outcomes of the Nairobi Forum that today appears in Kenya's
society, in spite of all its inadequacies.

The best demonstration that the process
is alive is, however, the multiplication of Regional and Local
Forums. It is expanding more and more, as with the first United
States Social Forum in June, and at the same time others in Québec,
in Germany, in the countries of Maghreb in Mauritania, in Denmark, in
Guatemala, in Brazil, in South America's Triple Border, among many

Therefore it can be said that the
dynamics of the Forum toward the inside, that is to say, toward those
who are fighting for another world, continues ascending nowadays. And
the 2008 Forum, with its format of multiple simultaneous activities
throughout the entire planet, in its diversity of types and topics,
with one day of common visibility in the symbolic date of Davos, it
can carry us to a very significant World Social Forum in January of

But the same thing has not passed with
the outward dynamics, that rather has descended. It is interesting
to note that the two dynamics (toward inside and toward outside) they
were both in ascendance until the 2005 Forum: more and more people
came to participate in the World Forums, as well as multiplying on
the regional, national and local levels. And was in 2005, in which
150,000 people came to participate in the largest until then that the
dynamic toward the outside began to lose force.

It is not for another reason that the
Communication Commission of the International Council will present,
in the next meeting of the CI, in Berlin, a plan of work towards the

Communication with the world is not,
however, a task of a Commission. It has to be assumed by all of the
participants of the process. It is not only an issue of communication
with journalists, essential channels to broadcast the information,
but rather of multiple communication systems that could make
possible that all people arrive at the certainty that "another
world is possible." Even more, as many things are already being
made – of resistance and effective transformation – that "other
world" is already in construction. With those who act to change
the reality having a powerful instrument to articulate and to unite
more and more: the process of the World Social Forum.

In fact, in the face of this new
challenge that the WSF faces, it would be good if we could say that
now we will concentrate our efforts in the communication of the WSF
process outside of it. But Walden Bello's essay awakens us to the
fact that this is still not possible. At the same time that we will
have to work so that the WSF communicates better with the world, it
will be necessary to continue fighting so that its path does not get
lost in unexpected crossroads.

May 23, 2007